shame vs. guilt


there is a group of thought whereby different “levels” of society are distinguished by the mechanism used to control people’s behaviour. usually, on this hierarchical scale, shame is put lower than guilt and guilt is characterized as the internalization of shame. shame is supposed to be a humiliation-type experience. now, obviously, for shame to work in these societies, it would have to be internalized to some extent (or else it would also be punishing rather than controlling behaviour). today i was engaging in my usual self-hating activities (kidding) and i realized that i must not be alone in incessantly rehashing in my mind experiences for which i feel shame. not guilt, because i did nothing immoral, but shame for losing face, looking stupid or getting caught in a lie in the past. usually in these moments, the people who witnessed my act are no longer in my life. when i feel bad about doing something stupid recently, like phrasing something very rudely, i fixate for about an hour or two and then get over it presuming i will make up for it in the future.
there are two examples from my “childhood” that i find myself thinking of frequently.
i will share them so you, the reader, can laugh at how i make myself feel bad for something so stupid at least once a week.
Situation 1: I am 10 years old and play football on an otherwise all-boy team. i have a crush on the star-running back and i am not a very good player. the boys on the team are bothering me about being a tom boy and one of them asks if i have a boyfriend. stupidly, i say yes. of course, the next question was “what’s his name?” i am so flabbergasted i give the name of the boy i like on the team (who is of course about three seats away) and, after turning beet red, i am sure because i cannot control a blush, i try to convince everyone, who is now paying attention, that, “no, another Jason.” This example is about getting caught in a lie. Getting caught in this lie made me feel horrible for adding details to stories to make them more interesting when re-telling for the next 10 years of my life. (only recently have i come to the conclusion that this “elaboration” is actually the gift of narrative and stopped obsessing over it. the story takes on a life of its own, particularly when it’s about a friend of a friend, and i don’t care if i fill in the blanks sometimes. cope.).
Situation #2: We are in my first CEGEP french class ever and the teacher has assigned a pretty good french novel. in the novel, the main character uses the metaphor of “hunting for wild beasts in fur coats” for men seducing a certain class of women. i totally miss that its a metaphor and start talking about how i didn’t understand the purpose of the “anecdote” in class, when really the story was about this character’s relationships with women before meeting his wife. for some reason, doing something this stupid comes back to haunt me a lot.
So, to summarize, i think the argument that shame and guilt are on different levels of identity awareness or civilization is bogus. they coincide. and i think the amount that shame is a personal thing is under-rated. do you not worry about seeming dirty or unhygienic on the metro around strangers? does it matter? and you know that you’re a clean person and this is a one time accident/occurence/trauma/illness, so why do we fixate on our runny noses, possibly blood-stained white-pants, or non-erection hiding jogging suit?
Lastly, i am hoping that sharing this insanely banal events in my life, so unworthy of my endless stream of worrying, with an open audience, will help me overcome my own fixation and permit we to stress out over the more important things: like my latin translation, petrarch paper, or banishment paper…or even that pesky roman empire final in may.


3 thoughts on “shame vs. guilt

  1. See, I think the problem is what you said in the last paragraph. You find these things insanely banal, NOTHING in life is banal if you don’t let it be. If you conceive of your life as epic, then, so it is. Shame/guilt are intersting, i think the class thing is bogus, but It’s also funny how for a long time Shame/Guilt was related to doing something and KNOWING that God knew, in the same way that a kid does something bad then turns around and realizes his parents are there watching him. As society became secularized, the emotion and feeling didn’t go away, it was just shifted with an increasing emphasis and intensity on “other people” or “the others” or “the public”. I find it funny when I’m out with my sister and she finds she has to save face in front of strangers, whereas I have fun randomly singing and/or dancing on the metro at 11 pm at night and attracting the stares. Then again, I can be an attention whore. Nonetheless, if you don’t posit a “public” you have to impress, but rather an “audience” that it’s your mandate to entertain… well, things become more fun. If you conceive of every second of every day of your life as being on stage, then nothing becomes banal, everything becomes necessary and essential and epicized.

    Now i’m off to epically write an epic paper on Hegel.
    Bwahahahaahahahahahaha, yeah. right.

  2. Hello ! I commmented on your day light savings blog, can your aunt hook me up with a phone line or what i am dying here i need the internet….

  3. question? what does Bryan’s comment have to do with my post? did he just need an excuse to rant about the state of modernity? i thought i was talking about internalizing guilt and shame and how you fixate on the dumbest things, not on how daily life is banal. did anyone else read this entry as he did?

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